National Chili Day falls in the heart of winter, when the warmth of this charismatic stew can truly be appreciated. I have come to find that most everyone I meet has a pretty fantastic recipe, but there is always a dilemma,
How do I make mine different?
Beans or no beans, tomato or pepper based, mild verses hot, steak, ground beef, pork, or no meat at all. Spicy, smoky or sweet, there are a million possibilities, but we can all agree on one thing: having a bowl of chili in your hands feels like home.
So lets start with the basics and go from there; like a Choose Your Own Adventure, chili style! Here is a simple chili recipe (insert yours if you have one) to use as your ‘base,’ and follow up with 7 easy options to totally customize your brew.
Wendy Is So Basic (Everyone’s chili recipe):
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds grown beef (optional: trade one pound out for sausage)
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 (14 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 (14 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 (1.25 ounce) packages chili seasoning
1 (14 ounce) can kidney beans, undrained
1 (14 ounce) can pinto beans, undrained
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and brown ground beef. Stir celery, onion, and green bell pepper into ground beef and cook about 5 minutes; pour in stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes with green chiles, tomato sauce, and water. Stir in chili seasoning. Mix all beans into chili, season with salt and black pepper, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour. Mix vinegar into chili.
Make yours different:
This One’s A Keeper (traditional Midwest chili)
Add 6 cloves minced garlic and an extra can of red kidney beans to your base. Make your own chili seasoning using cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
+Serve alongside a toppings bar with garnish galore. In true midwest fashion, don’t forget the cornbread and/or Cinnamon rolls as a side.
You had me at Tomato (no beans)
Beans or no beans seems to be the biggest controversy surrounding chili. But there might be a good reason to leave them out. A half cup of canned beans can have 1/3 of your ideal daily sodium content. Take the beans out of the base recipe, double the stewed tomatoes, and add 50% more onion and chili seasoning.
+Put Fritos and shredded Mexican cheese on top, or scoop into a snack size Fritos chip bag for a Frito Pie.
Mom is the Wizard of Ahhhs (for the kids)
It’s all about simplicity with the kids. Skip the onion and celery from the basic recipe, but add a spoon full of peanut butter to the bottom of the bowl before pouring in the chili.
+Give them cheesy bread with it and I bet they wouldn’t mind if you crushed Doritos on top too. 😉
The Triple B (beer, beef, beans)
This is a self-reliant chili that needs a little less fuss and a little longer simmer time. Adding a 12 ounce beer provides a taste break from the spices and different kinds can be fun to experiment with. Such as a Red Ale would add a touch of sweetness and the bitterness of an IPA would bring out the pepper flavor in your mix. Craft beer has gotten popular so flavor profiles are endless. Keep the meat simple and limit it to one type, a well seasoned beef is faultless. And this macho stew can defiantly handle a third type of been, your choice!
+Top it off with a dollop of sour cream, green onion, and lime.
The Smoke Surge (smoky chili)
Liquid Smoke brings a depth of flavor that feels nostalgic. Somewhere between 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of liquid smoke will make a good difference. Bacon can be used in place of liquid smoke and have similar taste. Add a few tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar to brighten it up.
+Throw peanuts on top when serving, or use as a topping for a hotdog or French fries to make a new tradition when tailgating your local sports team.
The Perfect Couple (something different)
Their real life is just as perfect as their social media pictures, coffee and chocolate are always lovely and classy. When these two are paired together it’s pretty exciting, and that applies for chili too. Stir in two tablespoons of instant coffee to enhance the deep flavors of the chili. Add chocolate by using cocoa powder (also two tablespoons) or 72% dark chocolate. Both cocoa options are great but the touch of sugar in the dark chocolate will help balance the coffee.
+Put sliced jalapeños and feta (or goat, if you dare) cheese on top to intensify the base. Serve with Saltine Crackers.
It’s Pronounced “Green Witch” (green chili)
It’s not easy being green when you’re chili because it is the one that is always left out. Most of the above recipes will not translate to green chili and it is different enough to need it’s own recipe. Change it up a little by making this version and set it into the dinner rotation this spring.
2 pounds pork
2 (28 ounce) cans of green Chile enchilada sauce
1 (16 ounce) jar of salsa verde
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped green chiles
2 cloves diced garlic
1/2 diced white onion
Tabasco to taste
2 Tablespoons corn starch + 2 tablespoons water
Brown the pork. Add all ingredients besides cornstarch to crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours in a slow cooker. To thicken, mix cornstarch with water in a small bowl and add to chili 20 minutes before it’s finished.
+Top with Queso and cilantro, and serve with tortillas.
What is your secret ingredient? How do you think chili should be served?